A Guide to DBS Checks for Schools
In this blog, Rachael Bishop, founder of RLB Safeguarding Ltd, and bringing over 18 years’ safeguarding experience working with local authorities and corporate bodies, explains what schools need to know when it comes to DBS checks.
Issued by the Disclosure and Barring Service, DBS checks are a mandatory requirement in schools and also for Ofsted, as stated in ‘Keeping children safe in education’. A DBS check is fundamental in supporting an employer to make safe recruitment decisions about their staff, volunteers, and governors. The information obtained from a DBS check can be instrumental in preventing people who may pose a risk of harm from working within your school. It's important to recognise that DBS checks are just one element of a larger commitment of any school to a culture of safeguarding.
An overall understanding of DBS checks
A DBS check can reveal different types of information about an individual's criminal record, depending on the level of check performed with the UK. The following list shows the main types of DBS checks, including two types of enhanced checks:
Basic DBS check: Any school can obtain a basic DBS check for their staff. The basic check is the lowest level of check, but will confirm if the staff member or volunteer has any unspent criminal convictions.
Standard DBS check: This is similar to a basic check, but it reveals more details regarding an individual's past or present. These include convictions, cautions, reprimands, or warnings held on the Police National Computer, regardless of whether they are spent or unspent.
Enhanced DBS check: This includes the same information as a standard check, but also any additional information held by local police that's considered relevant to the role the individual is being considered for.
Enhanced DBS with barred lists check: This is the highest level of check and includes the same information as the enhanced check. It also checks whether an individual is on either of two DBS 'barred lists’ of individuals who are unsuitable for working with children or vulnerable adults.
What is revealed during a DBS check?
When a school requests a DBS as part of their overall safer recruitment processes and policies, then this must be declared, for example, by making sure it’s explicit in job adverts and on the school’s website, and advising individuals that there will be an expectation that they consent to a DBS check to be carried out when applying for the role. Candidates and existing staff members should be aware that the information revealed will be used fairly, in line with the UK's data protection (GDPR) laws.
It’s important to note that, when considering candidates with historical or minor offences, these may be 'filtered' and won't appear on a DBS certificate after a certain length of time. However, filtering will not apply to more serious offences or offences relevant to safeguarding.
What is revealed during a DBS check will depend on the type of check requested. A basic check will only show any unspent convictions or conditional cautions, for example. Having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify an individual from a position. However, a DBS check is designed to prevent harm to vulnerable groups and to ensure that people are suitable for specific job roles and working with children. The nature of the conviction alongside the nature of the job role and activities will always be considered when making a decision.
An enhanced DBS check is the highest level of check that a school can obtain from the Disclosure and Barring Service. Enhanced DBS checks are only completed for individuals who will be engaging with children and vulnerable people in society. These roles are listed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975. The roles will usually be those that are carried out at least once a week (or three days in a 30-day period) in a school.
Enhanced DBS checks for schools will include:
- unspent convictions
- spent convictions
- cautions and reprimands
- final warnings
- additional information held by the police, such as local notes or anything they believe is relevant to the school as the employer
- adult and children barring list information (if required)
Which roles require a DBS check?
The level of DBS check requested by a school is dependent upon the nature of the role the employee or volunteer will be undertaking and the extent of the contact that they will have with children (regulated activity).
DBS checks for education: For the majority of the roles in schools, an enhanced DBS check is often required due to the frequency and nature of contact that the individual would have with children. It’s mandatory for schools to complete DBS checks, as well as for them to keep a track record of DBS checks for staff members, volunteers, contractors, and governors working in schools who have the potential for regular contact with children or young adults. This information will be kept and maintained on the single central record (SCR) as referred to in ‘Keeping children safe in education’ guidance.
These roles include, but are not limited to:
Teachers: This will include all teaching staff working full time or part time, agency/supply teachers, teaching assistants, and even private tutors.
School administrators, business managers, and office/reception staff: These staff members will often have sporadic and unsupervised contact with children or sensitive information.
DBS checks for volunteers in schools: Volunteers in schools who have regular, unsupervised contact with children are required to have a DBS check. It’s important to understand the role of the volunteer and the access and contact they will have with children, and if in a supervised capacity.
DBS checks for school governors: School governors in maintained schools are expected to undergo a DSB check due to the nature of their role.
School transport staff: Any staff member who transports children will have unsupervised contact with children.
Caretakers and school maintenance staff: There will always be opportunities for these staff members to have access to school grounds, as well as sporadic and unsupervised interactions with children.
Student support professionals and counsellors: These professionals work directly with students and will be exposed to sensitive information and unsupervised contact with them, usually in a 1-1 format.
Catering staff and lunch-time supervisors: These staff members have daily interaction with students.
After-school club staff: Regardless of whether these programmes are fully operated by the school or from an outside organisation, coaches and other staff will still interact with children in an unsupervised manner.
Contractors in schools: It’s important to fully understand when DBS checks for contractors working in schools are necessary. If the contractors are working frequently or engaging in any of the activities that would qualify as regulated activity and are in any potential situations where there may be unsupervised contact with children, then DBS checks must be completed or checked with external companies.
Frequently asked questions about DBS checks
1. What is a DBS check?
A DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check is a service in the UK for checking criminal records of people. DBS checks support schools to make safer recruitment decisions and prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups, including children, within their school setting.
2. Who needs a DBS check?
Any individual who works or volunteers in roles within schools where they have unsupervised contact with children will likely need a DBS check.
3. What is the difference between a ‘spent’ and an ‘unspent’ conviction?
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act states that certain recordable offences are ‘spent’ after a specific period of time. ‘Unspent’ refers to the offences that have not yet reached that specific time. It’s important to note that individuals are not actually obligated to inform an employer or school of any spent convictions and they would not show up on a basic check. However, any spent convictions will be disclosed on a standard or enhanced DBS check.
4. How long does a DBS check take for a school?
The timescale can vary, but typically, the Disclosure and Barring Service states that any level of DBS check can take around six to eight weeks to complete.
5. How often should DBS checks be renewed in schools?
DBS checks have no expiry date. However, any information included will be accurate at the point of issue. It’s the employer’s decision to decide when they request a new DBS check. However, most organisations will do so every three years.
6. What is a ‘letter of assurance’?
A letter of assurance is the term used when schools request confirmation from a partner organisation that all safer recruitment checks have been undertaken for the staff members supplied. This could include taxi drivers or supply staff, for example.
7. Can DBS checks be requested by an individual?
Individuals can request a basic DBS check for themselves. However, any standard or enhanced DBS checks will always need to be requested by the organisation that the person is working or volunteering for.
8. Can DBS checks be transferred from one job or organisation to another?
This can be done in some instances, depending on the situation. If the two jobs require the same level of check, it might be acceptable to use a previously issued DBS certificate. However, many schools prioritise the advice that they must request a new DBS check to ensure that the most up-to-date information is considered for that role.
9. What is the DBS update service?
The DBS update service allows applicants to keep their DBS certificates up to date and allows schools as employers to check a certificate using an online portal. The service charges a small annual fee.
The National College offers comprehensive professional development on safeguarding and safer recruitment to help your setting protect children and young people from harm and fulfil statutory safeguarding duties.
If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards.
UK Government, ‘Disclosure and Barring Service’ - https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/disclosure-and-barring-service
UK Government, ‘Check someone’s criminal record as an employer’ - https://www.gov.uk/dbs-check-applicant-criminal-record
Disclosure and Barring Service, ‘Rehabilitation Periods’ - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/rehabilitation-periods
Disclosure and Barring Service/Ministry of Justice, ‘DBS filtering guide’, 2020 - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dbs-filtering-guidance/dbs-filtering-guide#positions-where-filtering-does-not-apply
DfE, ‘Keeping children safe in education’, 2023 - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/keeping-children-safe-in-education--2
The National Archives, ‘Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974’, 1974 - https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/53